Twice a month, Berkshire County native Alana Chernila, mother of two, and author of the cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), contributes a thoughtful and heartfelt essay/recipe created exclusively for Rural Intelligence readers. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has a new one in the works, titled “The Homemade Kitchen,” due out this year.
It’s time we really talk about zhoug, because every time it comes up in conversation (nearly daily), I try to reconstruct the recipe from memory. It’s that kind of condiment.
Zhoug is a pesto/ chimichurri/ spicy pepper relish/ everything I like about a condiment. It’s smellier and hotter and more living-on-the-edge than pesto, because it zings and pops and burns. I’ve been told its origins are Yemeni, but it’s popular in Israel and surrounding areas. I came to it, like I (and many Americans) came to many delicious recipes from that region, through Ottolenghi’s book Jerusalem. It was falafel night in my kitchen, and I was in search of new and exciting toppings.
Boy did I find one.
The recipe that follows is a hybrid between Ottolenghi’s and all the varied circumstances and available ingredients I’ve had in my kitchen when I’ve made it. It’s the kind of thing you blend and taste, blend and taste, and so it’s hard to trace the exact quantities without just instructing you to do the same. When it comes to the chiles, my favorite is roasted Hatch green chiles, which we order once a year from New Mexico and freeze. But canned will do just fine, and in the absence of Hatch chiles I’ve used all fresh jalapenos or any other hot pepper languishing on my counter, and again, well — blend and taste.
And how do we use it? Of course we started with falafel. But it turns out to be outstanding on fried chicken, grilled meat, grilled vegetables, or smeared on flatbread. I’d say it’s pretty much fantastic on anything right now in this hot and spicy moment of August, when food is so good just on its own that the right condiment will make eating downright transcendent.
And with that, let’s make some zhoug.
Makes about 2 cups
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley (stems and leaves), roughly chopped
About 25 mint leaves
1 small bunch cilantro (stems and leaves), roughly chopped
4 hot green chiles, roasted and roughly chopped
1-2 fresh hot peppers, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cardamom
½ teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons water
Juice of 1 lime
Combine all ingredients in a large food processor and blend until you have a rough, uniform mixture. Taste and blend, taste and blend. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.